You Made Me Realise

Each day on Facebook I post a link to that day’s Bagging Area blogpost- I like to keep Mark Zuckerberg updated with music from the last few decades although he never comments himself or thanks me. When I published Tuesday’s post- Galaxie 500’s Blue Thunder from their 1988 On Fire album- a friend thanked me for reminding them of the song and album and posing the question ‘why was 1988/89 such a fruitful time?’ I replied and then thought about it a bit more.

The reason for the explosion of dance music and acid house in the years 1988-1989 has been well explored and well documented. In summary, in the north Mike Pickering had recently returned to Manchester from Belgium and headed Factory’s A&R. He was also given control over the musical policy at the Hacienda. Dave Haslam’s Temptation night was growing but from opening in 1983 the nightclub was often largely empty (and open almost every night). In its first few years it was more gig venue than nightclub. Pickering began to play the music that excited him, the new music coming out of the USA, house music from Chicago and techno from Detroit. At a similar time Shaun Ryder and friends developed a sideline to being Happy Mondays, importing ecstasy and selling it in the Hacienda. The combination of music, nightclub, youth and drugs quickly gathered steam. In the south a similar revolution took place but this time starting with four friends (who were also DJs) who spent a summer in Ibiza dancing to a wide variety of tunes, including some of those early house records, in open air nightclubs under Balearic skies fuelled by the same pills the Mondays had discovered. When they got back to the UK they decided to try to re-create this scene in London in the autumn- Paul Oakenfold, Nicky Holloway, Johnny Walker and Danny Rampling. Within months Spectrum, Shoom and The Trip opened. Acid house ensued.

The reasons for guitar music entering such a fruitful period between 1987 and 1989 are maybe slightly different. The bands putting records out in the late 80s were at the tail end of what had started with punk, in particular a model of Do It Yourself. An entire system of independent record labels was well established with a distribution model that got records into shops all over the country while avoiding the majors. In the US the bands inspired by punk had spent years criss-crossing the states building up a network, playing gigs in clubs and bars, meeting promoters, fans, fanzine sellers and the DJs from late night regional and college radio stations. In the UK John Peel existed as an outlet for even the most experimental and outlying bands and getting played by Peel was a reasonable ambition. The weekly music press (three papers remember, Sounds, NME and Melody Maker) had pages to fill, with opinionated and passionate writers and they held real sway and influence- NME Single Of The Week felt important. The post-punk period of roughly 1978-83 extolled being experimental, sounding like yourself and independent, leftfield, leftwing values. Technology was available and cheapish so recording a decent sounding demo tape was attainable. Cassettes were cheap and easy to reproduce and could be sent off to Rough Trade or Creation or 4AD or whoever. By 1988 this was all well established and bands had a mains to plug into, plus the back catalogues of the psychedelic groups of the 60s, the girl groups, the proto punks of The Stooges and The Velvet Underground, Nuggets and punk and its aftermath found cheaply in second hand shops or taped onto cassette with hand written inlay cards.

I think there are two other explanations- bear with me, if you’re still reading and I fully understand if you’ve clicked off and gone elsewhere- and which are specific to the 1980s. Firstly (and Aditya agreed with this on Facebook) one reason for the boom in guitar music was state funding of bands and music- the dole and to some extent the student grant which sent young people from all backgrounds to university or polytechnic or art school. The dole and education grants gave people the income which bought them space to create. It wasn’t much, there was just enough income to survive week to week but it was guaranteed as long as you met a few basic criteria (turn up at the job centre once a fortnight and sign on, turn up at lectures and hand an essay in once a term). Many of the British bands of the 80s came from dole culture. Some of the labels were funded by Thatcher’s enterprise culture- there are several who got a business grant or loan to start up. As Aditya put it on Facebook yesterday ‘You need a guaranteed income if you’re going to try anything highly speculative, such as writing a 20 minute white out in the middle of You Made Me Realise’.

You Made Me Realise

Today’s young people have to pay for their further education and the Tories have completely monetised university education, made it a financial transaction- what you are going to earn and how you are going to pay it back are the primary considerations. Leaving home to go to a new city, do a philosophy course, form a band, mess around and take your time doing it, are no longer possible (or valued). Trying to exist on the dole while putting together guitar, drums and bass seems increasingly unlikely.

The second explanation could be this- the 1980s were a polarised and confrontational period. You picked your side and it informed all your decisions. I saw a Tweet recently from someone disgusted by Morrissey and his appearance on US television wearing the badge of a minor British fascist organisation. The Tweeter said something along the lines of ‘in the 80s The Smiths were my gateway into an outsider life, of books, music, cinema and politics. Morrissey formed my adult life’. As an aside the fact that The Smiths had split up in 1987 possibly also accounts for something here, a gap where they had been now existed. But to get back to the point, the polarised world of the 1980s meant that making experimental/challenging/lo-fi/home made/trippy/weirdo/out there/leftfield music was a way of life and a basic requirement. The mainstream was the enemy and to be avoided at all costs. Rick Astley, Phil Collins, Queen, Elton John, Michael Jackson, Billy Joel- whatever you think of these artists now (and I still can’t understand why some of them have been allowed back in)- were to be repelled and pushed away from. Bands defined themselves by this, by being outsiders, by taking a stance. Every town had a nightclub that had an alternative night, usually a Monday, when it would otherwise be empty. The music was an alternative to the charts and the mainstream. Lionel Ritchie or My Bloody Valentine? Stock Aitken and Waterman or Creation, 4AD and Factory? Queen or Sonic Youth? Tango In the Night or Surfer Rosa? Bad or Bummed? Thatcher’s Britain and Reagan’s America and the glossy, bright, mainstream culture that it spewed forth brought about cultural reactions- the guitar groups instinctively knew this and responded in kind.

Ten years later this oppositional approach was gone- guitar groups, especially Oasis, sneered at what they saw as small time bands and a lack of ambition and wanted sales, number ones and stadium gigs. Naked ambition and a mainstream sound was in- Morning Glory and Urban Hymns are mid-tempo, smooth-edged, mainstream rock, rather than that gateway into a hidden world the Smiths fan I mentioned earlier found with guitar music.

Here are some Pixies.

Wave Of Mutilation (UK Surf Mix)

Monday’s Long Song

At only six minutes forty-three seconds this isn’t an especially long song but it came up on shuffle over the weekend and sounded immense. Released back in 1983 this is Colourbox’s magnificent take on Baby I Love You So, an Augustus Pablo song from 1974 recorded by Jacob Miller, but updated by Martyn and Stephen Young making the most of early 80s technology- it doesn’t sound dated all these years later either, that bassline alone is worth the price of admission. The guitar part is ace, not your standard reggae guitar part, the cymbals splash away and Lorita Grahame’s vocal glides over the top.

Baby I Love You So (12″ Version)

Sugar

I’m launching into what may be an ill conceived Friday series here at Bagging Area. Last Friday I posted several songs about honey- songs by Death In Vegas, The Jesus And Mary Chain, The Pastels and Spacemen 3. Today’s musical foodstuff is sugar, delicious, addictive, lipsmacking sweet stuff (that a report recently said is the real cause of the modern obesity crisis in the western world). A quick search of my hard drive reveals I’m spoilt for choice when it comes to sugar.

The lightest song on The Stone Roses debut album from May 1989 was about a girl, a sugar spun sister, opening with John Squire’s crystalline guitar chords and Ian’s softly sung vocals. The chorus turns things a little in what seems on the surface to be a fairly simple love song- the sky going green, the grass blue, M.P.s involved in solvent abuse- all these things would happen before she is happy with him. There’s a bit after the second chorus where there’s a pause and in the gap Ian sings ‘my hands….. are stuck to my jeans’ which is very nicely done (and which for years I misheard as ‘stuck to my dreams’). The sugar analogy is back at the end as Squire winds things up- she is the candy floss girl, he the sticky fingered boy.

(Song For My) Sugar Spun Sister

In 1997 Yo La Tengo put out a career highpoint, the double album I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One, an album which is a masterpiece of its kind. Sugarcube was in the middle of side 1 and later released as a single, 3 minutes 21 seconds of New York dreamy, soft noise perfection.

Sugarcube

Lyrically it’s a bit more oblique than The Stone Roses sugar spun song but I think it’s about the same thing ultimately…

‘Whatever you want from me
Is what I want to do for you
Sweeter than a drop of blood
On a sugarcube
And though I like to act the part of being tough
I crumble like a sugarcube
For you’

More sugar vicar?

AR Kane’s sugar song came out in 1989 and is a lilting, off-kilter song, acoustic guitars and odd tunings and another case of sugar being a female who’s a little too sweet.

Sugarwings

There’s loads more sugar on my hard drive- The Orielles have a song from last year (with an Andrew Weatherall remix to boot) called Sugar Tastes Like Salt, Slowdive’s recent triumph gave us Sugar For The Pill, there’s some Balearic Sugar Water from Kamasutra, Echo And The Bunnymen’s glorious 1987 single Lips Like Sugar and Secret Knowledge’s Sugar Daddy, a 1994 epic from Kris Needs and Wonder. I think I’ve posted all of these before at some point. There’s plenty more sugar in my record collection too but I’ll wrap this up with one more sugary delight before our teeth fall out. Four years ago Timothy J Fairplay released a 12″ in his Junior Fairplay rave guise, a back to the old skool circa 1990-1 retro-rave track that I love to pieces. Created using solely a breakbeat and a Korg 1, a vocal whoop and a stacatto ‘yeah!’, and then released on one sided purple vinyl, it is fun bottled, the future backwards. Sugar Puss.

Now go and clean your teeth.

Sugarwings

Jumping forward slightly from the last three day’s posts to 1989 with a pair of dreads from East London, Alex Ayuli and Rudy Tambala. As AR Kane they made some bewildering and beautiful music, combining guitars with synths and breakbeats and what would become shoegaze. The pair used the term dream pop to describe their music, and the ambient, dubby swirl give many of their songs a dreamlike state. They released two albums- in 1986 their debut 69 followed in 1988 by ‘i’, both on Rough Trade. In 1990 they put out an e.p. of remixes from ‘i’ called rem’i’xes, with Cocteau Twin Robin Guthrie providing three new versions and AR Kane themselves three more. This one is lilting and sweet but off kilter and experimental too.

Sugarwings (AR Kane Remix)

With Colourbox (as MARRS) they they would make Pump Up The Volume, an experience neither band enjoyed and wasn’t repeated, but which resulted in an international hit for MARRS and 4AD. The A-side, a number one single, is an amazing record, a groundbreaking piece of UK house music, laden with samples and a propulsive rhythm. There were so any problems with sample clearence that different versions were released in different countries. Pump Up The Volume was mainly the work of Colourbox and DJs Dave Dorrell and CJ Mackintosh. AR Kane’s contribution was pretty much solely a guitar line. The B-side was largely an AR Kane song but with drum programming from Colourbox’s Martyn Young and while not sounding much at all like Pump Up The Volume is a great track in its own right.

Anitina (The First Time I See She Dance)

Sail To Me

The This Mortal Coil cover version I posted on Tuesday, a genuine 80s indie classic from Ivo Watts-Russell, Liz Fraser and Robin Guthrie, has been re-edited by In The Valley. You might think that the TMC original is so peerless that it should never be tinkered with. In fact, In The Valley says on his/her/their Soundcloud page ‘They told me not to touch the classics, but I did’. And it is worth it, taking the spectral qualities of the Guthrie and Fraser song and marrying it to a Balearic reggae feel. You’ll be playing this several times this morning alone (and there’s a download button too).

Theatre De La Mer

After a few years of holding the annual Convenanza festival inside the castle at Carcasonne this year’s Convenanza moved to the coast and and the port town of Sete. Convenanza is a three day festival organised by Bernie Fabre with a line up of artists chosen by Andrew Weatherall and Bernie- this year’s festival at Sete took place in the outdoor theatre shown above, the Theatre de la Mer where the backdrop is the Mediterranean Sea. I can’t get to the south of France for a weekend during term time but I have online sources who were there and provided a running commentary of pictures, clips, tunes and reports over the weekend. The line up for this year looked like this…
As the weekend wound down one of my social media friends was raving about the impact this song had when played in the theatre outdoors after dark. It’s a lovely Balearic chugger from 2012 by Coyote with a vocal by Gavin Gordon, the sort of song that takes you up and brings you down…
There’s a very good acid tinged remix by Sean Johnston , the half of A Love From Outer Space that isn’t Mr Weatherall. The same roving reporter on the dockside also pointed us towards this one by Norway’s Laars, a mid-paced dj set track that goes a bit loopy in the middle and seems to have set hairs on the back of the neck on end and arms in the air…
The ALFOS dj set, Weatherall and Johnston back to back, on Friday night closed with This Mortal Coil’s spine-tingling cover of Song To The Siren, Liz Fraser’s voice drifting out from the theatre to the sea, ‘Long afloat on shipless oceans, I did all my best to smile’…

Help Me Lift You Up

Thunder is a good way to start a song. I was thinking this on Sunday night as thunder rumbled away outside our window, the odd flash of lightning and rain fell like stair rods. And while scrolling through a folder of songs, looking for something else, I found this song and clicked play. It started with thunder and I don’t ignore those kind of coincidences. It’s a gorgeous song too, a cover of a Mary Margaret O’Hara song, by Ivo Watt Russell’s 4AD dreampop collective This Mortal Coil. (off their final album Blood, from 1991). The thunder is followed by a slow heart beat pulse bassline and then we’re into dark night of the soul territory- and we come out feeling better.

Help Me Lift You Up

Tragically, the beautiful voice of this song, Caroline Crawley (whose main band was Shelleyan Orphan, a psychedelic, folk-pop group) died in October 2016 after a long illness. Which makes this sad sounding song all the sadder.